THE LIBRARY 2015
TEN (OKAY ELEVEN) REALLY GREAT BOOKS I READ IN 2015
Hello again America!!!
On today, the final day of 2015, I recount ten (plus one) really great books that I read in 2015. Are you ready? Are you reading? Are you ready to READ!?
There is no real rhyme or reason to these selections except that gosh but did I like them. Some are new releases, some are last year's hotties, and one in particular was perhaps the greatest reading experience I'd had in my wee life and earns the title of GRAND PRIZE WINNER BOOK OF 2015. Let's get started!!
SHORT STORY REALNESS
Thunderstruck - Elizabeth McCracken
From my Goodreads review: Good to the point of pain. I love any story that manages to be big while remaining small. Nobel Canadian Alice Munro is the master of tiny novels, and while she is all well and good, McCracken is every bit her equal as far as getting an entire book's worth of content in a mere 15 pages and, hats off to Ms. McCracken, she toys with perspective and voice in a way that makes me all gooey inside.
Hall of Small Mammals - Thomas Pierce
I bought this IN HARDBACK. I gushed about this debut collection earlier this year and it remains one of the most sadly under-read collections of the year. Mr. Pierce grew up where I now live (right?!) and was good friends with one of my new friends here in Sparkle City, which meant, had I not maybe-on-purpose gone out of town during his reading here, we might've hung out.
Thomas Pierce, if you're reading this, please know I have chilled significantly since reading HoSM so you can come back whenever and I won't be weird. Or at least not as weird. Also we in Spartanburg demand multiple advance copies of your upcoming novel so Brad doesn't hog the only one we get.
WRITERS I GOT TO READ FOR WORK PURPOSES(!!!)
Soil - Jamie Kornegay and Calloustown - George Singleton
One of the many many perks of my new literary-living-lifestyle (I work for an independent bookstore/press/magic place) is interviewing authors to drum up publicity for their events. This year, I got to talk to a host of authors, from blockbuster chick lit mega-millionaires to cake bakers to little old ladies who write cozy mysteries even though they have a doctorate in Medieval Studies and everything in between. Highlights? Mississippi bookseller Jamie Kornegay's wild ride of a debut novel, Soil, and George Singleton's SEVENTH book of short stories, Calloustown.
OMG IS THIS REAL LIFE?
Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century - Lauren Slater
My favorite things to do, in no particular order, are petting Pinto, eating ice cream, and learning about things as weird as they are true. I accomplished all three reading Opening Skinner's Box. Slater took a slew of flak for this book which discusses ten notorious psychological endeavors of the 1900s, including (fellow Hamilton alum) B.F. Skinner's baby-in-a-box and the infamous Milgram obedience experiment. Turns out Slater is maybe a pathological liar so no, I wouldn't go citing this book in my academic papers, but as far as an entertaining and educating read, you can't get much better.
My Friend Dahmer - Derf Backderf
There's no way to say "I love serial killers" without sounding like a goddamn weirdo, but guys, I do. I really do. Thankfully I am not alone as there's an entire damn television network devoted to murder and crime and all that not to mention the new craze in true crime documentaries like The Jinx and Making of a Murderer. My Friend Dahmer is pretty self-explanatory - John Backderf was friends with this guy in high school named - you guessed it - Jeffrey Dahmer. Remarkably, it's a graphic novel, and Derf's style is absolutely distinct and captures 1970s Ohio completely. A perfect blend of tragic and terrifying.
OLD WHITE DUDES
White Noise - Don DeLilo
Once upon a time in the fall of 2009, young Rachel traveled to the land of graduate school as a wide-eyed ingenue who was certain her entrance into this new institution of higher learning would solve all her problems ever, literary and otherwise. She was wrong. She was, however, introduced to a lot of incredible books in a class that was basically Let's Read All the Professor's Favorite Books (which was great because this professor had really great taste). Herein, young Rachel read White Noise. So, of course, being a creature of nostalgia, I decided to reread the book in my first school-free fall and it did not disappoint. I underlined so many lines that I gave up underlining midway through, knowing I'd just need to reread it again, and again, and probably again.
The High Window - Raymond Chandler
Midway through my manic reading binge madness, I realized I'd set the 100-book-bar way, way too high and it was getting stupidly stressful. Also maybe I had left the book I was currently reading upstairs and I was downstairs and thinking UGH HOW WILL I EVER GET THE BOOK I WAS READING and then I realized there were two entire bookshelves right in front of me including my omnibus editions of my man, Raymond Chandler. So I read The High Window and, like all Chandler, its noir at its best. Perhaps my best impulse decision of 2015.
YOUNG WHITE LADIES
Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
Believe the hype, kids. This novel - this novel! - is exquisitely structured, post-apocalyptic without being all Mad Max and deadly outbreak without being, well, Outbreak. A book I plan on hanging onto and hoping its magic rubs off on me.
Nobody is Ever Missing - Catherine Lacey
Checked this out from the library, didn't get to it, read a neat article about the process of designing its cover, still didn't read it, and then I did read it. And holy shit. I knew very little going in, other than the book had been much-buzzed-about, so I was not expecting to have my heart crammed into my throat and then shoved back down to the base of my spine and then yanked out of my damn eyeballs. The story is deceptively simple - narrator Elyria runs away to New Zealand, leaving her husband, her life, and much of her sanity behind. If you've been blessed enough to never question your own mind's workings, your purpose on earth, and whether you are irrevocably fucking everything up and have a morbid curiosity as to what all that feels like, read this book. Is it a millenial Bell Jar? Perhaps. All I know is I had to read it fast, both because I couldn't put it down and I had to get out of it as soon as I could.
AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST:
OUR GRAND PRIZE WINNER!
Here - Richard McGuire
I have nothing new to add to this review from The New York Times other than my own experience of reading Here which felt both intimate and expansive, deeply personal and absolutely cosmic. 300 pages of one corner of one room, spanning millennia, from the mundane to the enormous to the prehistoric to the distant future. It's unlike anything I've ever read before - maybe a little like Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, but it's anything but derivative. Ironically, Here has the fewest words of anything I read in 2015 and yet it is undoubtedly the best book I read.
BUT WE'RE NOT DONE YET!
Tune in tomorrow when I discuss My Single Most Very Favorite as well as My Very Most Hated Book of 2015. I can't wait! CAN YOU?
Be safe out there tonight, my children, and don't drink and drive.